Stepping into The Gun Club for a panel is always a little strange. What with all the, you know, guns. A bunch of raggedy artists sitting in rows, with all those portraits of pale young men watching on. But actually, entering this space – a space that seems a celebration of everything ostensibly male, white, straight and cis – is sort of perfect for a panel on Coming of Queerness, a nice big reminder that this is what diverse representation has to battle against – literal buildings dedicated to white bread dead dudes.
The talk starts off with an introduction to each writer’s experience representing queerness. Cameron Colwell touches on how he used to self-censor his writing because he thought no-one would want to read the kind of relationships and sex he was interested in. Molly Lukin says she writes queerness naturally because she writes about herself – but surely this is something that comes with her being comfortable with who she is. The panel is moderated by Roz Bellamy, who guides the conversation with an easy manner, managing to ask engaging questions and insert in her own experiences occasionally. While it would have been nice to have her answering questions too, her guidance gave this panel a solid structure and approachable tone that pulled the whole thing together.
What the conversation came back to again and again was the problem of common narratives. Molly touched on how coming out stories in the media can help people feel connected, but noted that having to make your own story fit into a particular kind of narrative can be harmful. For instance, she says, trans people often need to make sure they shape their stories a certain way when talking to health professionals. Cameron has similar things to say about coming out stories. Often the kinds mainstream media tell are either about being outright accepted or rejected, but people’s reactions to coming out can also be indifferent. We need more varied, more accessible stories of queerness.
A large part of the panel is taken up discussing an article that was written about the panel before it had happened, and how even that representation fell short – conforming to a narrative that made their words more palatable for a straight audience. But it’s not just misguided journalists that shape things for a straight audience. Molly and Cameron have both shaped their writing to suit straight readers in the past – in Molly’s case writing hilarious metaphors in straight-sex scenes, because that’s what she thought sex was. Maybe we shouldn’t be writing to a straight audience, Molly concludes, maybe we should just write for ourselves.
Even this panel, Roz points out at one point, isn’t as diverse as it could be. Trans issues, she’s noticed, are often not acknowledged as intersecting with queer identities, and while it’s fantastic there’s been a trans panel earlier in the day, there are no trans people on the panel. Though it’s no reflection on the value of their stories, even the narratives of the panel are limiting for some queer people. No one person’s story can represent everyone. As Molly acknowledges at one point: things have improved, but they’re still not great.
Though all the panellists were passionate and insightful, this panel didn’t offer many surprises. But it didn’t need to. It was just nice to carve out a space for these kinds of discussions. That’s what the queer community needs after all: more space in society, more space on the page. And strangely, with the ghostly faces of long gone soldiers looking on, this felt like one of those pages.